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Buying a Forest to Save It

A southern Oregon community’s effort to protect forestland has become a race against the chainsaw. The Williams Community Forest Project (WCFP) is working to purchase a locally vital 320-acre tract of forestland where clearcutting has started, in order to preserve it as a “community forest.” 

As loggers raze a hillside forest shadowing the Siskiyou Mountain hamlet of Williams, community members have secured $116,000 in cash and pledges towards $500,000 they need to secure an estimated $1.5 million low-interest loan to purchase the land, know as the W320. According to the WCFP, logging plans call for 250 acres of clearcuts in buffered 120-acre blocks. 

WCFP wants to buy the tract as soon as possible or facilitate a benefactor’s purchase of the land under a conservation easement. Enterprise Cascadia of Portland has committed to lend 65 percent of the assessed value of the property, but that leaves much of fundraising to be done.

“We still have an opportunity to save quite a bit of land from clearcutting,” says WCFP President Cheryl Bruner, estimating that 30 acres were recently cut. 

In order to prevent a series of large clearcuts close to town, and the erosion and wanton herbicide spraying common to commercial forestry, the WCFP plans to buy the land and preserve it as a “community forest” to “support and enrich our local and global forest ecology and community” through a mix of sustainable logging, education recreational opportunities. 

The privately owned tract, selectively logged in the 1950s and ’60s but still ecologically diverse according to locals, harbors the headwaters of three streams that provide salmon spawning habitat, community drinking water and irrigation for organic farms and forest product produces. The woods themselves serve as a wildlife corridor and provide habitat for endangered and threatened species including the red tree vole, Pacific fisher, mariposa lily and northern spotted owl.

So far, the WCFP has raised pledges through phone banking and auctions. Children of the community used a page on the fundraising website IndieGoGo to raise $10,000 towards purchasing the forest. The WCFP shares information on the W320 and plans for its protection, including future auctions and other fundraisers, at williamscommunityforestproject.org